Bridge closure snarls traffic; transit use increases

The closure of the Bay Bridge for repairs snarled traffic across the region Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning, drivers crowded onto the Golden Gate, Richmond and San Mateo bridges. By 7:15 a.m., there had been no major accidents. The California Highway Patrol is expecting double the number of cars on the road, said CHP Officer Shawn Chase.

By 7 a.m., congestion was already heavy on Bay Area bridges.

“It’s definitely a lot more work for the other bridges to take,” Chase said. “We have more officers working in the East Bay and Marin, and extra personnel to handle the extra traffic.”

Bridge traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge increased by an average of 70 percent from midnight to 6 a.m., but from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., automobile traffic was only up 15 percent, according to bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie. The drop in traffic numbers during the 7 a.m. commute time is likely due to traffic gridlock in Marin County, north of the Golden Gate Bridge, where teems of motorists are stuck trying to get from the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, Curry said.

“What we’re suspecting and hearing is that traffic is stuck trying to get to us right now,” Curry said at around 8:15 this morning. “If you’re connecting to us from Richmond, inevitably you’re going to end up on some one-way road, and that seems to be the problem.”

The bridge district’s ferry service is also seeing an increase in ridership numbers, although Curry said that passenger totals “haven’t been skyrocketing.”

All toll booths are open on the remaining bridges and additional tow trucks have been deployed.

“We anticipate there will be more breakdowns and fender bender accidents and they want to get them out of there as soon as possible,” Chase said.

BART is running more and longer trains and encouraging its riders to avoid trying to find parking in its lots.

“If you don’t have to come to the city, don’t come to the city. It’s going to be one of those days,” BART spokesman Linton Johnson said.  “If you can get to a station without having to park, you’ll have a much easier experience.”

East Bay commuters Wednesday morning poured out of brimming BART trains to vent frustration over not knowing how long the inconvenience would last.

“It was extremely crowded, everyone was in everybody else’s personal space,” said 32-year-old Oakland resident Laura Mayo as she walked through the Montgomery Station on her way to work.

Mayo, who usually takes the casual carpool over the Bay Bridge, abruptly changed her plans at 11 p.m. Tuesday night after hearing about the emergency closure.

San Ramon resident Cristal Downing snagged precious real estate – a seat – by boarding at the beginning of the line at the Dublin/Pleasanton station.

“The closer we got to The City, the more jam-packed the train became,” Downing said. 

Commuter Dexter Thomas, who often drives from his Fairfield home into The City, instead took a crowded BART from the El Cerrito station.

“Everybody was upset and hot and there were no seats,” Thomas said.

Thomas said the uncertainty over when the bridge would re-open was troubling, but he had no choice but to accept it.

“It makes me a little nervous, but they’re working on it. Things happen,” he said.

Vallejo resident Kevin Narine, 30, took his chances and showed up at his casual carpool stop despite the bridge closure. A fellow commuter told him to hop in the car, and the pair took the San Rafael-Richmond bridge to Marin County, then drove over the Golden Gate Bridge to San Francisco.

“It just worked perfect,” Narine said. But Narine doesn’t know how long his luck will last.

“I’ve got a second job in Fairfield and it’s crucial I get out of The City on time,” he said. “Every time this happens it costs money and time.”

John Cavanaugh, 35, of Alameda, ditched his routine bus ride to the Transbay Terminal and instead took the bus to an Oakland BART station and rode a standing-room-only train into The City. The experience added an extra 25 minutes to his commute and made him dejected.

“It’s just like life,” he said. “No big surprise I’m disappointed.”

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